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Can Federal Employees Be Disciplined for Lack of Candor?

We all know that lying to your supervisor or another federal employee can lead to big trouble. But what happens when a federal employee does not lie but fails to share everything they know? Can you be punished for withholding information? The short answer is yes. The charge for this kind of situation is called “lack of candor,” and lack of candor can lead to discipline. Agencies tend to use “lack of candor” when they can’t charge an employee with the more serious charge of “falsification.” But where falsification involves a federal employee who actually lies, lack of candor centers around the employee’s failure to be forthright. While less serious than falsification, lack of candor discipline can lead to a serious black mark on your federal record, and for some employees such as law enforcement officers, can end one’s career. For that reason, you should consult a dedicated federal employment attorney if you are facing a lack of candor charge.  Lack of Candor Meaning While it is one of the most common misconduct charges seen in the federal workplace, it is hard to describe lack of candor. A legal definition of the concept is hard to find. Instead, many legal practitioners treat lack of candor as a broader concept—one which involves a failure to disclose something which should be disclosed to make a statement accurate and complete. Because of its somewhat ambiguous meaning, some federal supervisors use lack of candor as a catch-all charge to throw at an unpopular employee. This behavior is especially common when a supervisor is harassing or retaliating against an employee that they do not like.  What are the Elements of a Lack of Candor Charge? The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has said there are two main elements of a lack of candor charge. First, the employee must give incorrect information or incomplete information. Second, the employee must give incorrect or incomplete information knowingly.  Accidentally giving an investigator information that later turns out to be incomplete or incorrect cannot lead to a valid lack of candor charge.  What Is the Difference Between Lack of Candor and Falsification? As we stated above, lack of candor only involves concealing information or giving incomplete information. Falsification requires an affirmative misrepresentation, a lie. To prove a falsification charge, the agency needs to establish that you had a specific intent to deceive. But proving someone’s intent is quite difficult to do. Consequently, agencies face an uphill battle when charging employees with falsification.  Unlike falsification, lack of candor does not have an intent element. All the agency has to prove is that you knew that the information you were giving was incorrect or incomplete. This is significantly easier than proving you had a specific intent to deceive. This is another reason that agencies tend to charge employees with a lack of candor rather than falsification. It’s simply easier for them to make the charge stick.  How Do You Prove a Lack of Candor Charge? The standard of proof for a charge is the amount of evidence the government needs to produce to win its case. For most charges, including lack of candor, the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence. This means the agency only has to convince a fact-finder that the alleged conduct was more likely than not to have occurred. That is a relatively low standard, making it easy for the agency to prove its case against employees without legal assistance. That issue aside, lack of candor cases almost always involve a credibility determination. In other words, it requires the judge to decide whether the employee accused of wrongdoing seems trustworthy when they give their version of the facts.  The presence or absence of other evidence is also critical. Are there multiple documents with your signature that make contradictory statements? Did any witnesses hear you make two different claims at various times? These types of evidence can single-handedly change the outcome in a lack of candor case. A skilled attorney will interview witnesses and collect evidence that supports your testimony. That is one of many reasons that having an attorney at your side is absolutely essential if you have been charged with lack of candor. Are There Any Defenses to a Lack of Candor Charge? Yes. One defense is that you did not know that the information you related was incomplete or incorrect. Maybe you did not recall the information or did not fully understand the question. Alternatively, you can assert that your agency acted against you because of illegal discrimination. Illegal discrimination includes any different treatment based on certain protected characteristics. A few examples of protected characteristics include race, sexual identity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and military service. When you meet with a federal employment attorney, they will most likely ask you if you can think of similar employees who have received different treatment. If you can think of those kinds of employees, it may be a sign of illegal discrimination in your case.  What Are My Rights If I Have Been Charged with Lack of Candor? As a federal employee, you have several basic due process rights. Whether your employer charges you with lack of candor or another charge, they must generally do three things. First, they must give you at least a 30-day advance notice regarding any proposed adverse action. Second, they must give you a specific and detailed description of your alleged misconduct. Third, they must give you the right to review the materials relied on to propose the action and a meaningful opportunity to defend yourself. If you do not receive these due process rights, a judge may overturn the agency’s action even if they meet their burden of proof. If the discipline is sustained, you may be able to appeal to the MSPB, or pursue remedy through EEO our OSC routes.  We Can Help You Defend Yourself Against a Lack of Candor Charge If your supervisor has charged you with lack of conduct, get legal help right away to protect your career....

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| Read Time: 4 minutes | MSPB

What to Expect at an MSPB Hearing

The law grants every federal employee the right to contest major adverse actions, such as suspensions over 14 days, demotions and removals. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is the government agency tasked with providing a venue for federal employees who wish to appeal an adverse action. If you’re appealing an adverse action, your MSPB hearing will often be your best opportunity to argue your side of the case and present evidence in your defense.  Below, we review what you can expect at an MSPB hearing. While this guide can help prepare you, it cannot substitute for years of legal training and experience. Therefore, if you have an upcoming MSPB hearing, you should definitely consider contacting a qualified MSPB hearing lawyer.   What Do I Need to Do Before a Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing? Most Merit Systems Protection Board cases take several months to resolve. The Board’s policy is to adjudicate all appeals within 120 days of receipt, although this standard cannot always be met. Before the hearing, the parties have an opportunity to engage in discovery. This means that you can ask your agency to produce relevant evidence, admit certain facts, and answer certain questions that help your case. You can choose to depose certain individuals, which means you can ask them relevant questions in real-time that they have to answer under oath. The administrative judge (AJ) often also holds a preliminary status conference to discuss the case and clarify any issues from the onset. After the discovery period, the AJ holds a pre-hearing conference with the parties. At this conference, the AJ discusses several key matters with the parties based on their prehearing submissions, including: The MSPB’s hearing procedures, Any pending discovery disputes, How to define the issues of the case, Mutually agreed-upon facts (also called stipulated facts), Potential settlements options, Which witnesses each party wants to speak at the hearing, and  Potential exhibits. These matters can become complicated very quickly. In addition, you can expect a fully qualified and experienced attorney to represent your agency. That’s one of the reasons why you should have an attorney by your side during your MSPB hearing.  These days, a test call (or test Zoom meeting) is sometimes required by the MSPB AJ as a confirmation before the hearing that all parties and witnesses have the technology to participate adequately.  What You Can Expect at an MSPB Hearing  Almost all MSPB hearings begin with a brief technology check. The AJ will then give both parties one last chance to discuss and resolve any pre-hearing matters. Once that step is finished, the AJ directs the agency to call its witnesses. Witnesses participate one at a time. At the beginning of each witness’s testimony, the AJ or court reporter will put them under oath. The AJ then allows the agency’s attorney to conduct their direct examination of the witness. During the direct examination, the agency counsel will ask certain questions of the witness. You (or your attorney) are allowed to object to the questions from agency’s counsel for certain reasons, such as relevancy. After the agency counsel concludes their examination, you have an opportunity to conduct a cross-examination of the witness. This process continues for each one of the agency’s witnesses.  After the last agency witness finishes, the agency will declare that it “rests” its case. At that point, the employee can call their own witnesses. After calling each one of their witnesses, the employee or their representative conducts a direct examination. The agency counsel then has an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Once the employee’s witnesses have all testified, the AJ allows each party to deliver a short closing statement. Sometimes, this closing statement will be required to be in writing. Parties use their closing statements to argue their case and highlight and review key points of testimony that favor their position. Once closing statements conclude, the AJ adjourns the hearing to consider the evidence. You can typically expect a decision from the AJ within several months after the hearing.   Do MSPB Hearings Involve Juries? No. Unlike many state and federal court cases, MSPB hearings do not involve juries. Instead, they include only the MSPB AJ, you (and your counsel), the Agency’s counsel, and a court reporter. The parties can call witnesses to participate. However, those witnesses must immediately leave after the AJ excuses them.  Where Do I Go For My MSPB Hearing? Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the MSPB generally holds hearings on video calling applications like Zoom. Therefore, most employees can participate from the comfort of their own homes, and expenses for attorney travel are greatly minimized.  Let Us Help Represent You During Your MSPB Hearing Now that you have a basic idea of what to expect at a Merit Systems Protection Board hearing, you can probably imagine how complicated they can become. In fact, it can be almost impossible to know when to object to a question or determine what kind of matters you should ask your employer during the discovery process. For that reason, it’s imperative that you have legal representation to maximize your chances of success. Your future deserves nothing but the best.  The team at the Federal Employment Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC is committed to bringing you stellar representation. We care deeply about protecting your federal career and preserving your legal rights. We’ve zealously defended our clients’ interests at countless MSPB hearings over the years. Let us give you the representation you deserve. Don’t wait. Call us at 833-833-3529 or get in touch with us online.

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| Read Time: 5 minutes | MSPB

How to Win an MSPB Appeal (And What to Avoid Doing)

Thousands of federal employees file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) each year. Over the past three years, only 3% of federal employees were successful. The success rate increases to 18% if you eliminate cases that settle before going to a hearing and those dismissed for procedural errors.  Below are some tips on how to win an MSPB appeal, but first you should understand how the appeal process works. What Is an MSPB Appeal? If a federal employee is subject to a major adverse action by a federal agency, such as demotion, suspension of 15 days or more, or removal, he or she can generally appeal to the MSPB (note that certain agencies and/or positions are not eligible for MSPB appeals, such as a Title 38 employee at the VA). The MSPB is a quasi-judicial federal agency. Its duties include resolving certain employment-related disputes between federal agencies and their employees.  What Is the MSPB Appeal Process? An appeal is appropriate only after the agency notifies the employee of the proposed action, the employee responds verbally or in writing in an attempt to mitigate, if desired, and then the adverse action is subsequently sustained against the employee.  Jurisdiction  Before filing an appeal, the employee must determine whether the MSPB has jurisdiction over the action and the employee filing the appeal.  The MSPB has jurisdiction to hear an appeal involving the following actions, but includes others as well: Performance-based actions, Reductions in grade or pay, Denial of within-grade pay increase, Suspensions for more than 14 days, Furloughs for 30 days or less, Denials of restoration or reemployment, Suitability actions, Reduction in force, and Misconduct actions. The MSPB will hear discrimination cases only if they are in connection with an action otherwise within MSPB’s jurisdiction. Some appeals will be heard only after you exhaust the procedures of another governing agency, such as veteran employment and whistleblower retaliation claims. Federal employees eligible to file an MSPB appeal include: Competitive service employees who have completed a probationary period; Employees in the excepted service, other than preference-eligible employees, with at least two years continuous service in the same or similar position; Preference-eligible employees with one year of continuous employment in the same or similar position; and Postal Service supervisors, managers, and employees engaged in personnel work with one year continuous service in the same or similar position. An MSPB attorney can help determine your eligibility to file an appeal. Filing the Appeal Timing Typically, you must file your appeal within 30 calendar days of the date of the action or within 30 days after receiving the agency’s decision, whichever is later. There are exceptions however, such as actions taken by the VA under 38 USC §714, which have a reduced deadline of 10 business days to file the appeal. If the appellant and agency mutually agree in writing, prior to the timely filing of an appeal, to use an alternative dispute resolution process, the time limit for filing the appeal is 60 days.  Format The format and contents of your appeal must meet all the MSPB’s requirements. To ensure you do this, the MSPB provides an approved form if you wish to submit your claim in writing, or you can submit your appeal online through e-Appeal Online. Hearing The MSPB will assign an administrative law judge (ALJ) to your case, who will request additional information and responses from you and the agency. The ALJ will address settlement as well, which may involve the MSPB’s MAP program. If the case does not settle previously, a hearing will take place to allow the parties and witnesses to testify. The ALJ will issue an initial decision, which becomes final 35 days later unless a party petitions for review to the MSPB’s appellate division, known as the “Board”. Further appeal If you are dissatisfied with the ALJ’s initial decision, you may either file a petition for review to the Board or typically with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Your appeal to the federal courts must be done within 60 days of the Board’s decision.  How to Win an MSPB Appeal? The MSPB says the most common reason as to why employees lose their cases is because they fail to bring forth a proper case by misinterpreting the law or not providing important evidence. Here are some tips on what to do (and what not to do) to increase your chances of winning an MSPB appeal.  Request All Material Used By the Agency When an agency takes adverse action against you, you have the right to review the material it relied on to make the decision. You should exercise this right and obtain all the material to build a strong case against the agency. To create a well-crafted argument, you need to know what information was used against you.  File on Time The timeliness of filing your appeal is of utmost importance. Do not miss the filing deadline Generally, you have 30 days from the date the action is taken against you to file your appeal. Although the MSPB may excuse late filing if you have a good reason and provide supporting documentation, this rarely happens. The MSPB processes thousands of cases each year, and it is incredibly strict about deadlines. Remember, your initial appeal form only needs to include the basics, such as the facts and legal issues of your case. The ALJ will request additional information after you file. The important thing is to get the appeal in on time. Do not file too early You can only file your appeal after the effective date of the action against you or after the agency issues a final decision regarding your performance or conduct.  File a Complete and Proper Form File with the correct regional or field office. You must file your written appeal with the MSPB’s regional or field office where your duty station is located at the time the action took place. From time to time, the jurisdiction of the offices changes, so check the MSPB website for the most up-to-date information. Pay attention to every detail on...

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| Read Time: 5 minutes | MSPB

MSPB Appeal Process and How to Get Started

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is the quasi-judicial agency responsible for overseeing the federal merit system. This system establishes rules and procedures related to the hiring, firing, and promotion of federal employees. The MSPB appeal process is an important part of federal employment because it provides a process for employees who have suffered certain kinds of adverse employment action to seek remedies. Below is an overview of the MSPB Appeal Process, as well as a helpful infographic about the process. The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing focuses on helping federal employees resolve a variety of issues related to their federal employment. If you’ve been fired, suffered from discrimination, retaliation, or otherwise faced workplace issues, we can help you file your claim with the appropriate federal agency. Contact us online or call (833) 833-3529 today to schedule a free consultation. The MSPB Appeal Process In general, the MSPB appeal process is very similar to what you would experience during a lawsuit. Instead of a trial, however, the parties ultimately present their cases during a hearing before an administrative judge. The eight major steps in the process are outlined below. The Employee Files the MSPB Appeal Technically, the first step in the process occurs when a federal agency makes a personnel decision that negatively affects the employee. The MSPB most commonly hears these kinds of cases, which include suspensions of 15 days or more, terminations, and demotions. After such an action is sustained, the federal employee may file a formal appeal with the MSPB. Employees can file appeals online through the MSPB’s e-Appeal Online service. Generally, employees must complete this step within 30 days of the adverse action prompting the appeal. However, there are exceptions, such as adverse actions taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs under § 714, which shorten this deadline. This is just one of many deadlines that will come up during the process. Hiring a federal employment lawyer will ensure that you don’t miss any of these crucial deadlines. Judge Assignment and Acknowledgement Order Within a few days or weeks of the initial filing, the case will be assigned to an administrative law judge (ALJ). The judge issues a document called an Acknowledgement Order. This order creates a timeline for the case and provides certain instructions about what each party must do next. The Agency Responds to Appeal Shortly after the ALJ issues the Acknowledgement Order, the federal agency must provide a file of their case to the judge and the employee. This file contains the agency’s initial response along with other documents relevant to the case. Status Conferences After receiving the agency file, the ALJ schedules one or more status conferences. At these conferences, the parties discuss the issues involved in the case, including any potential settlement or mediation efforts. It is possible that an MSPB case will end here if the parties reach an agreement. If the parties are engaging in settlement talks, the ALJ may order a case suspension. This suspension freezes the proceedings while the parties complete certain tasks. Case suspensions usually last 30 days, and the administrative law judge has the discretion to grant a 30-day extension if necessary. With regard to settlement, the parties may mutually agree to one of the MSPB’s mediation programs, such as the MSPB’s Mediation Appeals Program (MAP). Once both parties upload the signed MAP election forms, the appeal is taken off the docket pending the outcome of settlement negotiations.  The Discovery Process Just like in a trial, the parties engage in a discovery period to gather information in support of their case. In addition to documents, audio, or video, the parties may obtain sworn testimony through depositions. Other than the hearing, this may be the most important step in the process because it offers the employee the chance to obtain relevant evidence directly from the federal agency. The Parties Provide Pre-Hearing Submissions and Attend Pre-Hearing Conferences In the MSPB Appeal Process, the hearing is where the parties present their cases before the ALJ. Before the hearing, each party will provide information about the documents and witnesses they plan to use. This information makes up the “pre-hearing submissions.” During the pre-conference hearing, the judge may do several things: Explain the MSPB appeal process to the parties; Facilitate discovery; Identify and narrow down the relevant issues; Obtain certain agreements between the parties (called “stipulations”); Discuss the possibility of settlement; and Rule on the admissibility and relevance of witnesses and exhibits. During these preliminary hearings, the parties have a chance to provide support for the evidence and witnesses they wish to use. A large part of this step involves challenging and demonstrating a basis for the chosen evidence. The Parties Present Their Cases at a Hearing Usually lasting one to several days, the hearing is very similar to what you’d see in a courtroom. The parties may perform an examination and cross-examination of any witnesses, present exhibits, and other information to support their side of the appeal. At the end, the parties may also provide closing statements, either before the judge or in writing submitted for the record. The Administrative Law Judge Issues a Decision After the hearing, the ALJ will review the evidence in the record and issue a final written decision. This can take anywhere from two to six weeks, or longer, depending on the complexity of the case. What Comes After the MSPB Appeal Process? After the administrative judge issues a final decision, the parties have the opportunity to file another appeal if the decision is adverse to them. This appeal is known as a Petition for Review, and must be filed within 35 days of the date of issuance of the administrative judge’s final order. The three Board members of the MSPB review these petitions and issue a final decision. A petition for review may also be filed online. If the MSPB’s initial or final decision is adverse to the employee, that employee gains the right to file a complaint in the Court of...

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